Business News Education & Events The Great Escape 2018

The Education Conference: Music Hubs

By | Published on Friday 25 May 2018

Book stack with headphones

Over the coming weeks, we will be summarising all the key conversations that occurred during the CMU Insights conferences at The Great Escape this year. We are currently focusing on The Education Conference and today the role of the music hubs.

While the first conversation of The Education Conference looked at music teaching in schools Рfrom primary through secondary, and GCSE and A-Level Рmusic class is, of course, only half the story when it comes to formal music education provision for young people. Many students will also take advantage of instrument lessons through the schools system, lessons which are organised and funded in England through entities known as the music education hubs.

The hubs have been in operation around England since 2012, when they took over responsibility for providing music instrument lessons from the music services departments of local authorities.

Although providing that instrument coaching remains a core activity for the hubs, they actually have a wider remit. So much so that the hubs that are achieving all their goals should also be helping schools meet some of the challenges that were raised in the previous conversation – including the need for specific music teacher training and for more diverse teaching in schools that champions music in all its many forms.

Core funding for the hubs is managed by Arts Council England, whose Director Of Music Education, Hannah Fouracre, kicked off the hubs conversation at The Education Conference. Explaining the origins of the hubs system, she said: “In 2010, Darren Henley – who was then MD for Classic FM – undertook a review of music education in England. He found that there was a lot of excellent practice happening across the country, but that largely provision was very patchy”.

“He made a series of recommendations to government”, she continued. “That included things like having a national plan for music education, the continuation of central government funding for music education, and the creation of these things called music education hubs. Then, in 2011, the Department For Education and DCMS published a national plan for music education. That’s a jointly owned policy that sets out exactly what a child should be able to expect between the ages of five and eighteen for their music education. It also set out a vision for the music education hubs and said that the Arts Council would be the fund holder for them”.

The Arts Council then took tenders from organisations around the country who were interested in managing the local music education hub. Many of those who bid were basically the existing music services departments in those areas. The Arts Council then picked who should lead each hub and continues to provide core annual funding.

The key difference between the old and the new model is that the hubs are not a single department in a local council, but are in fact groups of schools and other organisations that come together to offer the best music education opportunities to young people in the local area. The entity that has a direct connection with the Arts Council is simply the lead organisation of the group, which is accountable for its funding and performance.

How the hubs work, who is involved and what services they offer varies greatly around the country. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It means the quality of provisions varies from area to area. But it also gives each hub the opportunity to structure itself in a way that meets the needs of the local population.

Peter Chivers runs the music education hub for Brighton. “We have the statutory role of delivering the national plan for music in our area”, he told The Education Conference. “But when we launched we knew it was also important to reflect the needs of young people in our city. So we amplified certain areas where we felt there were particular needs, for example supporting children in challenging circumstances, and supporting children with special needs and disabilities. So we had a very clear focus on what we collectively felt needed to happen in Brighton”.

James Thomas runs the music education hub in Hackney. He previously worked for the local authority there, which adopted the partnership approach to music education provision even before the hub concept had been adopted nationally. “We had already put together an informal network of organisations in order to provide what we felt needed to be delivered”, he explained.

“Part of that was about trying to tackle the disparity we saw between different schools in our area, depending on what expertise and external support any one school was able to rely on”, he added. “Basically we wanted to spread the love, and get more schools involved in the programmes that were really working”. The shift from being a music services department to being a hub allowed Hackney to formalise that network.

Both Chivers and Thomas definitely see the role of music education hubs going beyond administering music instrument lessons. Being a network that brings together organisations to share knowledge and expertise is a key role.

Hubs can also help meet the needs around training raised by the first panel. “One of the other things we fund is training for teachers”, Thomas confirmed. “Training is really important for young people to get what they need. Because, obviously, the people delivering the music teaching need the skills to deliver it effectively”.

The music hubs are not without their critics. Some argue that too many hubs have not embraced the potential of the system that was introduced in 2012, either through lack of ambition or lack of funding, or possibly a combination of the two. Even the really good hubs have to find extra monies to realise their more innovative projects.

However, all that said, with a key theme of the wider Education Conference being the need for more collaboration and communication between schools, teachers, educational organisations and the music industry, it seems the hubs definitely have a key role to play in achieving all that.

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